Why Some of the Greatest Soccer Players Retired So Young

Jan 20, 2021


*This article is part of an educational series for soccer parents and players new to soccer*

The competitive world of professional soccer requires players to be at the top of their game all the time. Many players who seem to be in their prime choose early retirement rather than lose some of their edge in competition. Others decide to quit because they’ve lost the love of the game, personal circumstance, or are forced to stop playing because of injuries. 

The average age for retirement for professional soccer players is 35, but many remain in peak physical form and can play long after that. In this post, we’ll look at seven of the greatest professional soccer players who hung up their cleats early (before age 30) and some of the reasons why. 

Marco Van Basten

Considered one of the best Dutch soccer players of all time, Marco Van Basten won two European Cups, three Balon d’Or awards. He scored a spectacular goal in a major final in a winner against USSR in the Euro 88 decider game. He was only 28 years old with what seemed like years at the top ahead of him when he was forced to retire due to ankle injuries. 

Fabrice Muamba

Muamba was a promising passionate midfield player for The Bolton Wanderers and made over 100 appearances in his five-year career with them. Sadly, he collapsed on the field during an FA Cup match between Bolton and Tottenham Hotspur due to a cardiac arrest. Although he made a full recovery, doctors advised him to stop playing because of his weak heart. 

Just Fontaine

This striker set the record for the most goals in a single World Cup campaign when he scored 13 goals for France in 1958. He was a part of the team that won three league titles and reached the Euro Cup’s final in 1959. Fontaine was forced to retire when he was 28 years old because of injuries. 

Hidetoshi Nakata

Hidetoshi Nakata was one of the greatest Asian soccer players in the world. He was the second Japanese player to play in Serie A and went on to play in the Premier League for The Bolton Wanderers. Due to a loss of love for the game, he ended his career and retired at the age of 29.  He went on to become a successful model and fashion icon. 

Mia Hamm

Mia Hamm, a top player for the US Women’s National Team, won two World Cups, two Olympic gold medals and four NCAA national championships. She had scored an impressive 158 goals in 275 games when she made the decision to retire at the age of 32 to start a family.

Eric Cantona

Eric Cantona was perhaps the best English soccer player when he retired in 1997 at the age of 30. Cantona played for Manchester United and was a crucial player in the club during their success in the 1990s. Rather than an injury that forced his retirement, he felt he had accomplished what we wanted and chose to leave the game on his own terms. 

Brian Laudrup

Brian Laudrup was a Danish player and brother to Michael Laudrup - another hugely successful soccer player. Brian was named Danish Player of the Year four times in his career and won league titles in three different countries and the Champions League with AC Milan. He was also part of the Denmark team that won Euro 92. He retired in 2000 at the age of 31 from injuries.

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